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Holten: It’s the end of hibernation

Do you know what hibernation is? That’s when certain mammals check into a hotel room in the late fall and don’t check out again until early spring.

While there, there’s a list things they don’t do, like order room service, watch television, take a bubble bath or drop water balloons from a fourth-floor window.

Instead, they sleep, especially woodchucks, whose heart rate goes from 80 beats per minute to only four or five. In addition, a woodchuck’s body temperature drops to 60 degrees below normal, which makes for some seriously deep dozing.

But do you know why they do it? They do it to conserve energy during a period when sufficient food is unavailable because, as you might know, grass, berries and other things don’t grow that well in North Dakota winters which, as we recently discovered, can last well into April.

It’s interesting to note that these creature’s hibernation periods might last several days, weeks or months depending on the species, ambient temperature, time of year, their body condition and whether or not they have a nagging wife. Because why rush back from REM sleep if all you’re going to be doing is mowing lawn, raking leaves, painting the house and washing windows?

Some of them prepare for hibernation by eating more each day than five Minnesota Viking offensive linemen because the extra fat keeps them alive during the winter. In fact, a black bear can gain up to 30 pounds a week during its pre-hibernation eating binge, usually ordering morsels directly from the Applebee’s menu.

During the fall, hibernating animals prepare nests for their winter sleep and some of them even pack a picnic basket because they like to get up in the middle of winter to raid the fridge, as it were.

Now you might be wondering, since their heart rate is so low, why don’t Yogi and Boo Boo freeze to death when it gets to be 60 degrees below zero? Simply because they have internal controls that prevent their body temperature from falling too low and they automatically wake up if it does.

Of course, when we think about hibernation, we think most often of bears that can lose 25-40 percent of its body weight during the dozing season by burning their fat for fuel. They love to hibernate in standing hollow trees and when they emerge from hibernation, they are often in a state of “walking hibernation” for several weeks and may appear to be drunk or in a stupor until their bodies get back to normal.

Now, there are only two humans that we know of who have ever hibernated.

One was a Japanese office worker who in October 2006 fell down a snowy slope while attending a work party. His body was found 24 days later, during which time doctors estimated that his core temperature had fallen from 98.6 to 71 degrees Fahrenheit, but he made a full recovery.

Then there was Rip Van Winkle, who wandered up a mountain one day to get away from his nagging wife, ended up meeting a bunch of bearded men who were playing nine-pin and drinking moonshine. He fell asleep and woke up 20 years later.

The bad news is he wasted 20 years. The good news is that his wife was no longer around.

Of course, overall, members of Club Hibernation include bears, squirrels, groundhogs, raccoons, skunks, opossums, dormice, bats, frogs, toads, turtles, lizards, snakes, snail, fish, shrimp, some insects and Medora.

That’s right, Medora has developed a reputation for sleeping the winter away but that’s changing, at least at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, where beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday, May 3, a gala event will feature actor Buck Taylor of “Gunsmoke” fame, music played by the band Outlaw Sippin’, other sipping (if you know what I mean) and snacking, new exhibits for pro rodeo icons Brad Gjermundson and Alvin Nelson, an art show, a skit by Sneak Pique Productions of Dickinson and, best of all, the debut of a host of new entertaining cowboy video footage.

Those doors are also staying open because, as comedian Woody Allen once said, “There are two types of people in this world: good and bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours much more.”

So wake up and come on out to Medora.

Holten is the manager of The Drill and the executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. Email him at